Depleted Uranium- silent killer

April 8, 2003

What is Depleted Uranium?

Naturally occurring uranium contains two radioactive isotopes U235 and U238 mixed together. Depleted uranium is what remains after the highly radioactive u235 is removed for use in nuclear fission. DU is an extremely heavy metal, about 1.7 times heavier than lead and is pyrophic, that is it catches fire when ignited. For this reason the military like to use it to tip the ends of weapons. A weapon tipped with DU can easily pierce through metals and shields, such as those used on armored tanks, and then explode.

DU is still radioactive, when used in weaponry it creates a radiological hazardous, as it spontaneously burns on impact, creating tiny aerosolized particles, which are small enough to be inhaled. These uranium oxide particles emit all types of radiation, alpha, beta and gamma, and can be carried in the air over long distances. Depleted uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, areas contaminated by depleted uranium pose a long term threat to human health and the environment.

In the 1950's the United States Department of Defense became interested in using depleted uranium metal in weapons because of its extremely dense, pyrophoric qualities and because it was cheap and available in huge quantities

Is it legal to use DU in war?

According to a August 2002 report by the UN subcommission, laws which are breached by the use of DU shells include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Charter of the United Nations; the Genocide Convention; the Convention Against Torture; the four Geneva Conventions of 1949; the Conventional Weapons Convention of 1980; and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which expressly forbid employing 'poison or poisoned weapons' and 'arms, projectiles or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering'.

Where it has been used?

Depleted uranium was first used in armed conflict in the 1991 Gulf War and has since been used in Bosnia in 1995, and again in the Balkans war of 1999. In the Gulf War, the Allies fired 944,000 DU rounds.

During the 78-day Kosovo War in 1999, the U.S. fired 31,000 rounds of DU at Yugoslav armoured vehicles and tanks. There are reports that the U.S. fired 10,800 DU rounds during combat in Bosnia during the air campaign in 1994 and 1995

How does DU effect people's health?

Once DU becomes aerosolized then minute particles can be absorbed by inhalation or by ingestion. If inhaled DU particles can lodge in the tiniest passages of the lungs and can reside there for many years, irradiating a small area of surrounding tissue with cumulative high dose radiation, eventually causing lung cancers.

Being a heavy metal DU is also likely to cause problems when ingested. Particles are likely to concentrate in certain areas of the body such as kidneys, liver or digestive tract. These particles are most likely to be ingested through drinking water, as DU is soluble in water after it has been aerosolized. Children and babies are ten to twenty times more sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of ingested radiation than adults. Today, medical reports from Iraq indicate that childhood malignancies heave dramatically increased. Many babies in Iraq are now born with serious genetic defects. An epidemiological study made in Iraq by Dr. AlimYacoub shows a direct correlation between the rise in childhood cancer and leukemia and the high exposure to DU dust in certain parts of Basra in Iraq. The rise has been 384% and 300% respectively.

A survey made by the Veteran's Administration of 251 Gulf War Veterans families in Mississippi showed a that 67% of children conceived and born since the war had rare illnesses and genetic problems.

Both allied veterans and the Iraqi population are also suffering from neurological disorders, respiratory problems, immune deficiency syndromes and rare kidney and bowel diseases. These are all consistent with the radiological and toxic effects of internal exposure to DU.